What Next? UK seeks elusive Brexit deal to end uncertainty
Britain's search for an elusive Brexit solution continues, with meetings between Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government and the opposition Labour Party.
Politicians are scrambling for a Brexit deal that can stop Britain crashing out of the European Union in just over a week.
With politicians in London divided and EU leaders losing patience, a look at what might happen next:
If Britain can't break its Brexit impasse, it risks crashing out of the EU in eight days.
Last month, the EU agreed to postpone the original departure date of March 29, but gave Britain only until April 12 to pass a deal, come up with a new plan and seek a further extension, or leave without an agreement or a transition period to smooth the way.
Most politicians, economists and business groups think leaving the world's largest trading bloc without an agreement would be damaging for the EU and disastrous for the U.K. It could lead to tariffs imposed on trade between Britain and the EU, and customs checks that could cause gridlock at ports and shortages of essential goods.
A hard core of pro-Brexit lawmakers in May's Conservative Party dismiss such warnings as fear-mongering. But most are opposed to leaving without a deal. Parliament has voted repeatedly to rule out a "no-deal" Brexit — most recently on Wednesday, when the House of Commons passed a bill that forces the government to ask for a delay to Britain's exit rather than crash out.
But a no-deal Brexit is still the legal default position, and could happen if the EU refuses to grant another extension. The bloc says it will only agree to delay Brexit if Britain breaks its impasse and comes up with a new plan.
After almost two years of negotiations, Britain and the EU struck a divorce deal in November, laying out the terms of the departure from the bloc and giving a rough outline of future relations.
But it has been rejected three times by Parliament amid opposition from lawmakers on both sides of the Brexit divide. Pro-Brexit lawmakers think it keeps Britain too closely tied to EU rules; pro-EU lawmakers argue it is worse than the U.K.'s current status as an EU member.
This week May finally acknowledged her bind, and began seeking a compromise with her Labour opponents to try to win their backing for the withdrawal deal.
Initial talks between May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were described as constructive but inconclusive. Negotiations between the two leaders' teams continued Thursday.
The only way May will get Labour support is if she embraces a softer form of Brexit than the one she has described for almost three years since Britain voted to leave the EU.
May has always insisted Britain must leave the EU's single market and customs union in order to forge new trade deals around the world. But Labour says a customs union — a trading area that sets common tariffs on imports to the bloc while allowing free trade in goods moving between member states — is essential to protecting British jobs.
Agreeing to a customs union could gain May valuable votes in Parliament. It also would probably be welcomed by the EU and would allow Britain an orderly departure in the coming months.
However, it could also create a schism in the Conservative Party, leading to resignations of pro-Brexit government ministers.
That instability increases the chance of an early British election, which could rearrange Parliament and break the deadlock.
May has conceded that Britain will need a further delay to its departure in order to sort out the mess and avert a "no-deal" departure.
The EU is frustrated with the impasse and has said it will only grant another postponement if Britain comes up with a whole new plan.
Both Britain and the EU are reluctant to have the U.K. participate in May 23-26 elections for the European Parliament but have signaled it could happen if necessary.
This week, Parliament narrowly rejected a proposal for a new referendum on whether to leave the EU.
The proposal for any Brexit deal to be put to public vote in a "confirmatory referendum" was backed by opposition parties, plus some of May's Conservatives.
The government has ruled out holding another referendum, saying voters in 2016 made their decision to leave.
But with divisions in both Parliament and in May's Cabinet, handing the decision back to the people in a new plebiscite could be seen as the only way forward.
Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit